By Kevin Ives
Plainsman Parking Lot
Another week, another tough test for the Auburn Tigers and this time it comes in the form the Arkansas Razorbacks; a Razorback team that rivals Auburn step for step in most of the SEC Hitting statistics. Of the big time offensive clubs that Auburn has faced this season (LSU, Arizona State) Arkansas is the most consistent from top to bottom. To make matters even tougher, Auburn gets to play in one of the toughest SEC environments: Baum Stadium. That same Baum stadium that Auburn has only won series in a handful of times. However, it's not something the Tigers aren't accustomed to. It was just two years ago that Auburn won a series in Fayetteville in dramatic fashion: down 8-2 going into the top of the 8th. AU rallied for 4 runs in the 8th, 4 runs in the 9th, and 2 runs in the 10th.
Not sure where you start with Arkansas. They are good. Dang good. Their offensive prowess, combined with Auburn's recent pitching struggles, could spell a recipe for disaster. The Auburn pitching staff will have to play "pick your poison" with the Arkansas hitters. Led by Collin Kuhn and Zack Cox. Arkansas can put up absolutely gaudy numbers. Cox, a 6'2 215 lbs 3B is a past Freshman All American and leads the SEC in hits, is 2nd in Runs scored, and is thought of by most to be the best hitter in the SEC.
It would be one thing if Arkansas could just slug away and the pitching was lacking. Sadly, that's just not the case. The ‘backs have a solid 3.70 team ERA and opponents are hitting a cool .252. On top of that, Arkansas pitchers have 359 Strikeouts and 116 walks through 374.3 innings. Tough to say the least.
Auburn will have a couple things working in their favor. In one of the oddest stat's I've run across, Auburn is 14-1 when opponents start a LHP. Arkansas will start 2 LHP against the Tigers. Those two (Drew Smyly and Randall Fort) are both a perfect (combined) 9-0 on the season and have 2.22 and 2.60 ERAs respectively. One of the trends will end this weekend.
It boils down to this: Find a way to manufacture runs. Arkansas gives up few HRs and Baum is a big and spacious park. The Arkansas Catcher, James McCann, can be run against (and has been, only throwing out 8 runners all season). The pitching staff can be hit (but barely). It might be slugfests back and forth and if Auburn pitching can possibly (hopefully) find a way to contain the Arkansas bats, then maybe, just maybe the Tigers can steal a series. Honestly, all Auburn needs to do (in the grand scheme of the road to Hoover) is just steal ONE GAME. Yet, even that is going to be tough. Arkansas has only lost 3 times at Baum all season.
"FREDDIE" STILL STREAKING- It's almost become ordinary that OF Justin Fradejas will get a hit. His hitting streak is up to 23 games and in those 23 games, 12 have been multi hit. He has pulled is avg up from .200 when it started to .359. In fact, every Auburn game Fradejas has started, he's gotten a hit.
HUNTING SEASON- A good part of Auburn's success this season can be attributed to Hunter Morris. The Junior 1B from Huntsville, who's likely playing his final season as a Tiger, has a 12 game SEC hitting streak (including a game winner against UK). His only SEC game without a hit was the series finale against South Carolina.
KP=HR- Here's another odd sate. Kevin Patterson has 11 HRs in limited playing time. 10 of those are solo shots and surprisingly KP has more extra base hits than singles. One key will be if Patterson sees playing time (unlikely with Arkansas using 2 LHP), Auburn needs to get runners on for KP. Patterson is a solid hitter and game changer at times, he just struggles against LHP.
LHP POWER DROUGHT-While Auburn may be 14-1 when facing a LHP its not by power. Of the 73 HRs Auburn has hit this year, only 20 have come against lefties.
Overall it will be a tough task for Auburn. A series loss isn't the end the world. A series sweep is a bit grim. A series win? Well that would surprise a ton of people and give Auburn huge momentum as they close out the season.